11/07/2015, 00.00
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Xi-Ma summit divides ordinary Taiwanese

by Xin Yage
The historic summit between Xi Jinping and Ma Ying-jeou elicits various opinions in Taiwan. In some, it is anger and frustration over the country’s “sell-out”; in others, it is curiosity and a desire for closer relations. Above all, business plays a crucial role.

Taipei (AsiaNews) – As the presidents of China and Taiwan meet for first time since 1949, divisions in Taiwan bubble to the surface. AsiaNews spoke to residents in Taichung and Taipei to see what people think and expect from the high-level meeting. People from all ages were interviewed.

Among the older cohort, views vary according to origins. Some miss close ties with the mainland. "I was born in Xi’an, a historic city in Shaanxi,” said Mr Chen, drinking his tea at a bar near Taichung Railway Station. “My whole family came from there. Even though I found warmth and prosperity in Taichung, my roots and folks are over there.”

Others are more hostile, like his cousin, who was sitting with him. “The people in Beijing should not even try to challenge our democracy. We are not like them!" he said, his index finger raised, like a teacher giving a lesson.

Among the middle-aged, who are still far from retirement, greater opening to the mainland is more of an economic thing. This is especially true for those working in the tourist sector. For them, mainlanders have been a godsend. "You cannot compare with the years before 2007-8, when contacts were enhanced, albeit with controls. Without mainland tourists, we would be poorer."

What do the most radical think? When the Xi-Ma summit was announced on Monday, some people with banners were already standing in front of the government building.

“The official sell-out begins! Everything has been decided in backrooms. We cannot trust our president!” shouted the leader of the small group of protesters, a certain Mr Wu, as reported by Formosa TV. However, three hours later, everyone was already gone.

“President Ma is doing Tsai Ying-wen (the DPP presidential candidate) a favour,” said Mr Tsai. If she becomes president, it will be easier for her to say 'I have to continue negotiations' instead of having to start things on her own. President Ma Ying-jeou is helping her.”

“She is also playing her cards well. In May, she was in the US to tell the Americans that she was not going to cause troubles in the region when she took office. Now Ma is giving her a big hand for Taiwan’s future. She said she wants to improve relations with the mainland. However, my opinion is biased. I must confess I am a KMT supporter.”

Ms Zhuang, 35, is a journalist and pro-independence political activist. For her, the meeting is all smoke and mirrors. "I cannot understand why we give in to such humiliation. The international community has abandoned us or even forced to endure it.” She has a popular blog, especially among college students.

What do young people think? We went to two high schools in Taipei, students ranging in age between 15 and 18. Opinions vary depending on whether their teachers talked about the summit. Students whose teachers discussed Sino-Taiwanese relations were grateful for the information.

"Economic and cultural relations are already very strong and stable,” said an 18-year-old student who plans to attend the Foreign Service school next year. “We have to continue to explain political relations and defuse potential conflict. On both sides, the benefits outweigh the disadvantages."

"With respect to the meeting on Saturday there is more curiosity than opposition or support,” said Mr Wu, a teacher of Chinese language and culture.

“It is the first time since 1949. It is an historic fact. There has never been anything like it at this level. People want to understand the consequences and see how both sides react. I mean the mainland and Taiwan.”

“For me, this is the most important point, and I think that everyone agrees, even those who see it as a bitter pill to swallow. Most of my students have reacted with a lot of curiosity towards the summit. This might seem simplistic but I see as something positive.”

Ms Jiang, a history teacher, agrees, up to a point. “"Diplomacy and contacts between countries and political entities are always positive if they have constructive purposes,” she said.

“Many see the meeting on Saturday as a sell-out for Taiwan. Two of my students took part in last year’s occupation of parliament, the sunflower student movement. They are very hostile towards our president, with many good reasons that I share. However, even they admit the need for such high-level talks.”

For the educator, “There are plenty of doubts, but what are the alternatives? Pretending that there is no problem or that there is no diplomatic channel? Talks are always very important, especially at the highest levels. This is what I teach my students."

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